April 29, 2011 10:13 pm

Chasing the Devil

 

Chasing the Devil: On Foot Through Africa’s Killing Fields, by Tim Butcher, Vintage, RRP£8.99, 336 pages

In 1989, Charles Taylor toppled the despotic Samuel Doe in Liberia, installing his own anarchic regime whose brutality quickly spilled over into Sierra Leone.

War correspondent Tim Butcher reported on the atrocities from the relative safety of Freetown, but in 2009 he returned to explore the previously inaccessible hinterland. His 350-mile trek to the Liberian coast from Freetown follows Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps (1935), his stately expedition with 26 porters.

Butcher’s travelogue is a mix of nervous adventuring through a landscape littered with shell casings, and historical assessment peppered with Greeniana. He ponders “the central role played by devils in tribal society” and considers topics from female circumcision and Chinese investment to blood diamonds. What he finds are animist subsistence farmers living in abject poverty in “one of the world’s most failed and scarred states”. Sobering and illuminating.

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